Yemen’s Marib city toppled as Houthis advance through energy-rich province

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If Marib’s rule falls into the hands of the Houthis, it would be a blow to the Saudi-led military coalition that has been battling an Iran-aligned group and UN-led peace efforts for more than six years.

The impending battle for the city of Marib would also put a population of 3 million people at risk, including about 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen as it was mired in a regional power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. .

Houthi military spokesman Yahiya Sara announced on Tuesday that they had seized Marib’s al-Jubah and Jabal Murad districts, after taking al-Abdiyah and Harib last month, adding that “our mujahideen continued their march towards the city of Marib”. Is.”

They extend into most of the districts of Marib, Yemen’s only gas-producing field, and in Marib al-Wadi, one of the country’s largest oil fields, which is completely under government control along with the city of Marib.

It is unclear whether the Houthis will directly attack the capital of the Marib governorate or move to take the nearby oil and gas facilities and besieged the city.

Their territorial gains in Marib as well as oil-rich Shabwa in the south come despite coalition airstrikes and fierce fighting, which have taken a heavy toll on both sides but also killed civilians.

Mayasa Shuja al-Din, an accomplice in Sanaa, said, “Houthi control over all Marib is only a matter of time, although it may take several months, until government forces receive superior quality weapons from the coalition and between them The differences are not resolved.” A Center for Strategic Studies.

Government forces say they will not bow down. Two military sources and a local official said that there are ditches, sandbags and mines around the city.

One military commander said, “If the Houthi advance from the desert towards the oil and gas fields east of the city of Marib, they will be easy prey for coalition warplanes, so they will try to surround the city on three fronts, but We can face them and break them.” , who declined to be named, told Reuters.

Marib lies to the east of the capital Sanaa, which the Houthis seized along with much of northern Yemen in 2014 after they ousted the Saudi-backed government, leaving the coalition to intervene only to be caught in a military standoff. was inspired.

A photo shows destruction following a Houthi rebel missile attack on a mosque in Yemen's northern strategic city of Marib on November 1, 2021, during which at least 22 people were killed.

The United Nations and the United States have struggled to engineer a ceasefire necessary to revive political talks to end a war that has killed thousands and left millions starving.

“Our immediate concern is the safety and security of civilians in Marib. In the first six months of this year, more civilians were killed or injured than in the previous two years,” said Erin Hutchinson, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council. in Yemen.

There has been little progress in talks between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran aimed at de-escalating tensions, and the Houthi advance in Marib is likely to further enthuse Tehran. The two enemies have been fighting for control of the entire region for years.

“From an Iranian perspective, the Houthis, their allies in Yemen, appear very close to winning the war in the north, if not the entire country. It is extremely difficult to understand why they or the Houthis would think it was the right time to stop,” International Crisis Peter Salisbury, a senior analyst at the group, said.

Riyadh, which wants to pull out of a costly war but needs security guarantees, including Houthi missiles targeting Saudi cities, has seen the Houthis change power since 2019, when ally the United Arab Emirates largely had ended his presence.

“The Saudis … will not leave (Yemen) at any cost, they need to make their intervention somewhat successful,” Salisbury said.

Even if Riyadh reaches an agreement with the Houthis, ending the war requires agreement between Yemen’s myriad factions.

“Is it possible to work towards an internally consistent agreement? It’s a lot of moving parts,” he said.

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